Fire Leads to Immigrant Stash House

June 29, 2006, 08:02 PM EDT

Reported by Ray Pedraza

A fire call leads the McAllen fire department to a stash house where nearly a dozen illegal immigrants were being housed by smugglers.

The house fire started on the 2100 block of Uvalde Street in south McAllen around Noon Thursday.

Four illegal immigrants were taken to hospital for minor burns and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Neighbors who live near the burned out McAllen home, near 31st and Uvalde, had no idea it was a stash house for illegal immigrants. Not even Jerry Tijerina.

"As far as us being aware of any activity going on there, you know we work every day go to work come back home tend to our family and pretty much that's it."

But while he and others were going about their daily lives Border Patrol says smugglers were hiding illegals from El Salvador and Mexico-- for transport to Houston, California and Nashville.

They had been there for eight days until someone got careless with a candle and caught the place on fire. The illegals tried putting it with towels, then went and hid from fire fighters in an outdoor utility room.

"It was quite a shock to some of the firefighters because the initial search and rescue no one was found in the house. But when they did the outside search they located these people in the room and you could see the change in the firefighters face when they come out and say there's nine people in a small room all packed in there."

Four of them had to be transported to the hospital with minor burns and carbon monoxide poisoning. Six others are in custody of border patrol. Investigators are now trying to determine who the home belongs to.

And while the illegal stash house may have shocked firefighters, Tijerina says he's not surprised.

"It's not surprising because as close as you are to the border any house and every house could be a stash house. You have a lot of immigrants that go by here almost every day but people don't notice them because of how they blend in with the rest of the people living here in the city of McAllen."

Investigators found plenty of letters in the mail box of the home but at this time we don't know if that person is the owner or if anyone is facing charges.